Ecological studies while performed regularly inside college labs can't possibly be as well documented as those done in the subject matters own habitat.
For four SUNY Fredonia students and one professor that chance will come in a very unique way this month.
The Flagship Niagara, a non-profit educational program provided through an active learning experience onboard an authentic 19th century wooden sailing ship, will host students from five college campuses throughout Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania.
"It's essentially the only floating school in the entire nation," SUNY Fredonia Associate Professor of Chemistry, Sherri A. Mason, Ph. D, said.
"The idea of the field course is to get the students out and doing real life environmental science off of the ship and learning about the Great Lakes, their history, and the ecology of the environment currently," Mason added.
Professors from the schools involved spent more than six months creating a customized course for the Flagship Niagara that focuses on biology, ecology, chemistry, and natural history.
Students will receive course credit from their home institution that will count towards their graduation requirements.
"The combination of learning ecology, while living, working, and studying on the Flagship Niagara, will allow students an amazing learning experience," noted Professor Bill Edwards of Niagara University.
Students participating from SUNY Fredonia include Miranda Strek-Greco, Rachel Radicello, Lauren Piche, and Patricia Murphy. Mason said the program was offered to any natural science major but was obviously more expensive than a normal 3-credit course.
"Last year the boat was closed for renovations. The year before that they did one sample cruise but that just involved history students. So this is the first time they're engaging natural science students that will actually be doing experiments off the boat," Mason said.
Students live on the boat for the entire three-week-long voyage and although the ship will dock three to four times they continue to live on the ship. They can also get off and do some laundry and take showers, Mason joked.
"They actually take part in manning the ship," she said. "We have four hour rotations with some up in the middle of the night, doing the ropes ... it's a sailing ship so it's very old fashioned. They'll have to mount sails and take them down and move things around."
The first day of the three-week-long event is a training session, and then the second day students will go on a day sail in Lake Erie and come back, and on the third day they'll take off to their first stop in Port Colborne, Ontario. The three week voyage will begin in Erie, Pennsylvania on July 26 and conclude in Chicago on Aug. 15.
"I'm not from this area, this is my 10th year in upstate New York and I've certainly learned a lot from being here but it's a whole different experience being out there and taking the samples," Mason said of the opportunity. "I'm hoping to get the same kind of objective as the students have which is the practical experience versus reading about it in a scientific article ... and sailing a ship."
For more information about the Flagship Niagara please visit www.flagshipniagara.org
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